Parents: Talking with Your Children About Sexuality

Most parents dread discussing the birds and the bees with their children. It’s natural to want to protect them from the messier details of life, especially before they’re ready to cognitively deal with these new concepts. But uncomfortable though it may be, it’s absolutely essential for parents to talk to their kids about sex and sexuality. Sex education programs are provided through most schools, but kids consistently turn to their parents most frequently for information on the topic. This makes parents the most important source of information about sex, so it’s important to be well-informed and ready to discuss the subject.

The Importance of Having “The Talk”

If children and teens feel that they can’t approach their parents with questions about sex and sexuality, they’ll turn to friends and the Internet for information. It’s a common misconception that introducing children to the idea of sex will make them engage in sex at an earlier age or more frequently than they otherwise would. In fact, the opposite is true. Kids who know more about sex, sexuality, and safe sex are actually more likely to wait to have sex and to use contraception when they do.

Sex is a hot topic among teenagers. Many teens believe that their peers are engaging in sex and feel pressure to do the same. Unfortunately, this pressure results in the United States having one of the highest teenage birth rates among developed Western countries. By talking to teenagers about sex, you’ll be helping them navigate more safely and with less pressure through this turbulent part of growing up.

What to Cover

There are several things parents may want to address when talking about sex and sexuality. One key subject is the mechanics of sex and the structure of male and female reproductive organs. Make sure to explain how each works, how to keep them healthy, and what part they play in pregnancy. It’s okay to mention abstinence as a choice, but bear in mind that according to Advocates for Youth, 62% of teenagers will have had sex by their senior year of high school. If the parents come from a religious background, this is an ideal time to discuss sexuality in the context of faith and spirituality.

Teens may be led to believe, especially by friends and media like TV, that sex is necessary for a relationship. Explain that there are many ways of showing affection and that sex is only one option. The emotional consequences of sex should also be addressed, and this includes subjects like rape, abuse, and sexual assault. Make sure your teenager understands their own sexual rights and the rights of others and that they can come to you for help and support if one of these events occurs. This can provide a good transition into the discussion of what makes a healthy sexual relationship and the importance of communication and safety between partners of all sexual orientations.

Tips to Get Started

Talking about sex doesn’t have to be a long ordeal that takes up an entire evening. One of the most effective methods for making sure that kids learn about safe sex is to have frequent, short discussions throughout the entirety of the child’s development. A critical cornerstone to a teenager’s sexual experience is knowledge of their own self-worth, their personal rights, and the personal rights of others. This can be taught as early as two or three years of age by introducing children to the idea that they can make decisions about their bodies, such as whether to hug someone or not.

A good way to broach sexuality with children is to demystify it. When a child asks about where babies come from, take some time to explain the mechanics. Refer to sexual organs by their proper names. If children worry that they’re not being the “right” kind of boy or girl, remind them that there are many ways of expressing ourselves and that the important thing is to be a good, kind person. As children become teenagers, make sure they know that you’re available to answer questions. A good talk means that both parties are interested in the conversation, so while it may be tempting to lay out everything in a lecture, focus instead on addressing bits of information on sex and sexuality over time.

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